A Middle Earth Reunion - Chapter Fourteen; Battle and Desperation, and Epilogue
The camp woke ere the rosy glow of dawn reached the far horizon, preparing and eating in somber silence. Elanor was once more dressed as a young boy, and could not show any affection for her betrothed, though they often met one another's eyes with caring glances. There was again a deep darkness in both hobbits' hearts, both at what they had seen, and of what they were sure would come to pass.
The march began shortly after dawn, the men already ordered into their places for battle. The company of the Estel was near the front, behind the king, and each ship's former occupants were farther back in the line. The two thousand from the Blessed Realm were stationed mostly in the rear, as a last resort, a final hope when doom fell. When Samwise learned of this, he had gone aside with the Lord Aragorn, unafraid to address the great man as a peer, and disputed his decision. He, at least, should be near the head of the column, he reasoned, to-- Before he could even begin to stammer a plausible argument, Aragorn denied him.
"I hold the reinforcements at the rear, Samwise; that is my command. You hold no place in this war. I would not risk further death to the innocent. Return to your station, my friend, or you shall not fight at all!"
The host proceeded through the valley between the mighty Pelori mountains, finding a clear, lush path, strangely green next to barren stone. The way was only wide enough for ten men to walk abreast, so it took the company six hours from the king to the last rear guard to make it through the mountain pass. Soon after, they found themselves in the midst of the orchards of Yavanna, mighty trees bearing fruits indescribable in their beauty and flavor. Such feeble progeny as the sweet clementine or mango that grow in this time are no more than frail shadows of those far-removed ancestors. Even with the threat of battle, the men marveled at the magnificent colors and scents that caught their enthralled. So it was that, some two hours later, between the laden boughs, the gathered peoples caught sight of the ominous cloud looming over the nearing fields.
Stepping at last out from the cover of the towering trees, Elanor found herself gazing at the field, covered in a veil of deceptive innocence. Across the mighty pasture, a sickly jaundiced light lingered, much as the strange calm that overtakes the land ere it is torn asunder by the raging torrent of the skies. To the far north, a pale silver light flickered, like the last vestiges of moonlight on an endless winter's night. Waiting for the great army to gather, at last, on the mammoth plain, those already assembled found themselves drawn by the subtly dangerous glow surrounding the pasture with an aura of tension, and the hidden power of a storm about to break, or waves making their slow way to crash upon the tormented stones.
The force assembled at last, the King donned his shining silver helm and slowly, with painful deliberation, turned to face his troops.
"I feel in my heart the same fear that would be our downfall, the same terror of the unjustly doomed. But I tell you this; do not lose hope! From the least to the greatest among you, each of you holds in your hands the fate of our people. Many shall die. I shall not lie to you; even after all our trials, our efforts may come to naught. But I do not, I cannot believe this is our fate. The world of men shall not fail. This day; this last day. This time before doom, before death; it is this day we face. It is this day we fight!" he cried, stabbing his mighty sword, Anduril, Flame of the West, to the clouded sky. Elves, men, and four small hobbits dispersed throughout the grim host cheered aloud for their leader, and their king. Elessar turned once more back to the yellowed plain, and began the final, desperate march to meet the Valar. It had been long in the coming, but moved forth now with the slow, unstemmed fury of the tempest gale.
"Yes," an ancient warrior at Elanor's side mumbled toothlessly in a rough and wizened voice. "This is what me bones `ave been longin' fer. A real battle, an' some'un teh figh' agins'!" Elanor looked at him, curious despite her growing panic.
"See, lad; `tis no bad thing teh die fer what yeh believe in, if yeh die with courage in yer `eart. Nay, I pity those we've left a' `ome, if we lose. There'll be no joy, an' no `onor in their deaths."
Elanor nodded, and turned once more to the soldier's back before her. So it should be, she thought. If I'm to die, then it'll be with courage, and valor. I'll not be afraid to face what was meant to be. She held her head high, and the last remnants of fear and despair left her, replaced with a grim resolve to face her destiny with pride.
Suddenly, the light in the northward distance flared, as though a fire, greater than any ever lit, had sprung up from the darkness. A voice, great and terrible in its awesome power, came across the plains and into their very minds. Many clamped their hands over their ears, but still the message echoed in their skulls.
"Manan utúliellë?" the voice demanded, though at the same time it called in their minds, Why have you come? Aragorn stepped forward, and called to the north.
"We have come to defend our lands, and our people, that you have turned against without reason."
All understood the voice to reply, Return to your lands across the sea, and die in your own country. You will all be lost, despite all your choices.
"We shall not turn back! We have come to challenge the deaths of our people, our kin, and we shall not fail ere all breath leaves our bodies." Those assembled in the host raised their heads, strengthened by the words of their King.
Know in your deaths that you have formed your own doom, and the doom of all your kind. The voice faded away, and, for a moment, all was deathly silent. Then, the great silver flame from the north rose high into the air, and covered all the isle in pure and blinding light. When eyes cleared, they found a great army, formed only of the pure silver light, standing in evanescent power, not a hundred yards away. They raised their cold, shining blades, through which could be seen the ominous clouds, and began to stream relentlessly forward, a tide that could not be stemmed.
"Forward, men!" the tall king called. "For your lives, your city; for your people! FOR GONDOR!" All took up the cry, resounding past all the corners of that forgotten land. "For Gondor!" So it was that the last battle began, and the two armies met on that field in the land across the Sundering Sea.
Much of the front line was cut down at the first meeting on the plain. Cries of shock, and pain, and despair met Elanor's ears, but she could not see, row upon row of towering soldiers set before her. All was motion, chaos, confusion, pain. Suddenly, before she knew what had happened, the man before her fell, a shining sword run through his chest. The mighty warrior, cause of the man's death, stood before her, blade already raised once more. It was poised above her, prepared to force it down into Elanor's heart. She did not even have time to raise her little sword, and before she could wince the blade was driving forth into her chest.
So it ends for Elanor Gamgee, she thought, detached, waiting for the pain and death to reach her. Sad, really. Never even got to strike. She waited for a moment longer, and realized that she was not dead, and was not even in pain. She opened her eyes and looked down at her chest.
Yes, the spectral blade was deeply sunken into her heart, but it passed through her like smoke. No injury, no pain, Elanor simply had the odd sensation that she ought to be dead. Tentatively, she stepped slightly to the left, and the blade remained where its owner held it, passing straight through her side as she moved. She passed her hand through the dagger, only to find no resistance, and no tangible sword. But that could not be! She had seen the man before her cut down, life severed from his body. Blood stained his tunic as he lay in the grass, yet it seemed Elanor could not feel the bite of unremitting light.
Losing some of her fear in place of wonder, she stepped forward and lightly tapped the spectral form with her blade. To her shock, he faded, shimmered, and vanished, leaving not a trace on the physical earth. Looking around, she realized it was not so for any of the others in her company. They would stab fiercely at the ghostly warriors only to be slaughtered, their weapons little more than toys in the hands of children. Bewildered, Elanor put her confusion out of her mind for a time. It seemed that she was needed, and there was no time for befuddlement.
Block, thrust, spin, duck, Elanor's blade shone in the light of the swiftly sinking sun. With each stroke, another spectral form faded and vanished. Though she remained unhurt, men and elves around her lay wounded, moaning, dying; and still the battle raged.
Some time later, Elanor rested a moment, leaning on her blade. She had grown used to the silver warriors, unable to hurt her, and heeded them not as their swords passed through her flesh. She realized that she had long been separated from Faramir, and sought him. Her eyes soon found an aged white oak, alone in the vast field, and fear struck her.
Surrounding a small figure, a great battalion of the grim host clamored. The figure's curls were dark against the sun, but his countenance was unmistakable. Faramir stood alone, and his strength was clearly waning. As she ran to him, he fell to his knees, narrowly parrying the deadly stroke of a phantom blade. He struggled to his feet, and as he stood, defenseless, Elanor's heart of glass, so long sheltered, shattered like finest crystal.
Behind him, a single warrior raised his blood-soaked spear. It hung in the air like some nightmare bird, thirsting after the nectar of the mortal heart. Slowly, so slowly, it thrust forward, piercing flesh, muscle, and driving itself fiercely into Faramir's lung. He staggered and fell, even as the shimmering sword was wrenched loose with a twist.
The earth shook under Elanor's feet, the sky fell, and she found herself at Faramir's side.
"Elanor," he gasped, his own blood choking him as he spoke.
"I'm here, my love, I'm always here," she whispered as she sobbed, each breath a terrible burden, and a terrible pain. Weakly, he grasped her hand and held it to his heart.
Softly, so that Elanor leaned closer to hear, Faramir slowly murmured a verse of his simple song, written long ago in their quarters beneath the fallen realm of Gondor.
"Though in death's cold haze my bones may surely lie,
Though the spark of life has finally died,
I'll come back to you, for my soul yearns for rest;
My lingering hope, my final test."
Faramir's eyes clouded; and his face bore no pain as his breath became shallow, slowed, and in a moment longer than all the ages of the earth twice over, stopped. Beneath the bows of whispering leaves, in the light of a fading sun, the life of Faramir Took, son of Peregrin of the Shire, ended.
Kneeling in the spreading darkness, Elanor was empty, mind and soul deserting her in the wake of pure despair. With no will to drive it, no need to power it, no sense to keep it, Elanor's heart stopped its beating, allowing her to sink into the lonely darkness of sleep with no awakening.
* * *
Elanor's spirit did awake, and was not allowed to escape her depthless sorrow. She remained, still kneeling, with the blood of her love staining the ground beneath her knees, and she began to weep anew. She did not realize that all around her was silent, and but one other beheld her alone with the stars, and ever-watchful death. Elanor felt the other approach, but could not bring herself to look from the lifeless eyes of her lost love.
"Child," said a voice that resonated with vague familiarity. A voice that held beauty, and joy, and wisdom. "Why do you weep?"
"I have lost all I have ever loved," Elanor whispered as the tears fell, her voice like a breeze that has been swept away by a cruel rain.
"Behold me, Elanor of the Shire, and be healed." For the first time, Elanor lifted her eyes to gaze upon that which is fairest. The Lady Elbereth Star-Kindler, light and hope of all the Earth and its children. She was clad in starlight, and there was a silver glow in her skin. The light of the moon was in her ebony hair, speckled with the glimmer of joy unfading, and a silver circlet bound with a single, sun-brightened gem was about her brow. Her skin was of no color, for the light that emanated from her was so pure and blinding that it seem that her very essence was composed of power and beauty. To see such strength, such divine wisdom, could cause all the children of Arda to cast themselves into the depths of the bottomless sea, or into hottest fire, or the deepest pit of the earth.
Though Elanor felt an answering call within herself, part of the same joy and strength and wisdom, her heart could not forget the cold and barren figure before her, once filled with life and love, and she could not stem her tears.
"My Lady," Elanor murmured, and bowed her head.
"Rise, Elanor, and leave your darkness for a while. It will not be lost, or forgotten." Elbereth held out her hand, and when Elanor took it, it burned without pain, froze without the frost of ice, and shone with a light that did not hate the darkness.
The two figures, great and small, walked in silence for a time. Uncounted questions were coursing through Elanor's grief-stricken mind, but she could not bring herself to face the being beside her. Her heart ached dully, and she felt that a great, yawning cavern had opened up in her soul. Finally, unable to bear both the pain and her unanswered queries, Elanor took the Lady's hand once more and fell to her knees. She could not look that power in its brilliant eyes, or even in its shining face, and so bowed her head as she spoke.
"My Lady, please!" she implored, anguish in her every breath. "I cannot go on until I at least know this; Why me? Why was I chosen? Why were your visions sent only to me?"
Elanor could feel the Lady Varda's eyes on her, like a warm breeze felt in the cool twilight of early summer. Her skin tingled and the hair on the back of her neck rose, some forgotten reverence stirring deep within her heart.
"Why, indeed," the Star Queen replied, powerful yet so soft. "There is nothing so special in you that could not be replaced, except, perhaps, your inner fire. But that, it now seems, has been extinguished. Perhaps I chose you for your purity, yet even that is not untainted by sorrow. No, I believe this choice came in two parts. I marveled at your spirit, your joy, and your strength. You do not fear to bear the burdens of others. And also, perhaps, to spare you a worse pain. It is better indeed to love, and to lose that love, then it is to never have loved in all the days of your life. It may be that this was not what your heart desired to ask of me; do you not more truly want to know, `Why was he taken from me?'" Elanor nodded, just a small jerk of her neck as her warm tears fell upon the feet of the Star Kindler.
"I cannot see all things, child; only Vaire, the weaver, and Namo, master of the dead, know all that will happen in all the days of the sun, and even their great tapestry is not complete. In truth, he was never meant to make this journey. His fate was changed, only by his innocent love for a young halfling, whose destiny should not have been his own."
Elanor crumpled in upon herself, her despair too strong to be overcome. "I did this," she cried, her voice like the agonized cry of some gentle bird, returning to her nest to find her eggs shattered and the blood of her young still warm on the tender leaves. "It is through me that he died! I could not have let him love me had I known this would be his end. Please, Lady!" she begged, finally raising her eyes to Elbereth's. "Give him back his life. It is I that should have paid; take me instead! I would gladly pay this price to know he walked the earth once more."
Varda looked down at the broken being, pleading on her knees for the life of her love. "It is not I who can make this choice, little one," the Lady replied in her unchanging voice. "It is not I who holds the key to the realms of the dead. Namo governs the soul of the other now, and nothing I would do could change his unwavering will."
"Then let me go to him myself! Lady, please, I must try! I will surely die ere the dawn of another morning if I cannot do this. I would rather die for my love than for my grief."
"You would do this in vain, child; this I know. Yet I see that this must be done; I cannot keep you from this task. I will take you to his mighty halls, and their you will receive the judgment that you seek." Elbereth tightly grasped Elanor's small hand, and closed her gleaming eyes. The star-lit scene about them began to dim, and blur, and Elanor was forced to shut her own eyes against the dizzying sight. When she opened them once more, she and the Star Queen stood before the towering doors of a vast hall, carved from purest obsidian and flecked with adamant. Varda placed her smooth palm upon the flawless surface, and the gates slowly opened inward. Many steps led downwards, into the darkest core of the earth. The two descended swiftly.
Revealed at their base was a mammoth chamber, greater than any beheld or imagined in all the life ages of this world. Only a few massive pillars obstructed the grand view, and even they added to the majesty and grandeur of the halls of Mandos. Completely covering the walls was a tapestry, unrivaled by any of the works of men or the lesser gods of later times. Images of battle, love, and the simple joy of life flowed over the beautiful fabric, composed only of time itself. Gazing, awe-struck, Elanor saw pictures of great heroes that she had heard tales of in her childhood, as well as many she had never known. At the far end of the hall, a woman not unlike Varda in stature wove and sang at a loom that could strike envy into the purest hearts. By her side there was a great throne, and upon it sat a lord in the shape of a kingly elf.
As Elanor and Varda drew near, the hobbit glanced quickly at the figure and felt that her eyes burned. She had seen only a robe of swirling black, looking like nothing so much as twisting vapors of deepest fog, and caught a glimpse of his eyes, only to be shocked once more; the master of the dead was blind, his empty sockets closed smoothly over with flawless skin. Death is blind, unfettered by perceptions; he sees only with his heart, Varda's voice echoed suddenly in Elanor's skull.
"Welcome, Lady Star Maiden." So came Namo's greeting, less of a voice then a thought that found itself in Elanor's mind. "It has been long indeed from the last your presence graced my halls. Tell me, what be the purpose of your coming? I sense that you are not alone, but `tis not a presence I have known."
"Greetings, Spirit-Master," Elbereth replied, bowing her majestic head. "I bring to you a halfling, a younger child of the One. She is named Elanor, and she comes to ask a boon of you." The lord nodded.
"So she is the one. Another of her kind has come to me, slain in the great battle, and he called for her. I did not heed him; so it is with so many of the dead; they yearn for those they leave behind. Child, ask of me your wish; it may be that I might aid you."
Slowly, keeping her eyes from any of the gods surrounding her, Elanor stepped forward before the Lord of the Dead, and kneeled down in front of his mighty throne. With a great effort, she spoke softly to the dispassionate being. "My lord," she began, her voice no more than a quiet whisper. "I wish only for you to free the life of Faramir, my only love. He is the one that called for me. I wish for him to live again."
Namo bowed his head. "For what price would you have me do this?" he asked, his voice soft in its power. Elanor remained silent. She had nothing that the lord could want from her. "A price," Namo repeated. "Greater than the worth of the life of the other."
"My life?" Elanor asked. "I would gladly give my life in return for his."
Namo shook his mighty head. "All that you could gain for that is death. No, I would need something more for this."
Elanor held her face in her hands. What could be more valuable than her own life? It was all she had-- Suddenly, her eyes lit with their old fire, though they were filled with a boundless despair. Straightening her neck, she spoke.
"Our love. I would give up our love for his life."
The sightless lord nodded grimly. "Yes, that would do. Yet, there are two things that you could have for such a price. You must make a choice between them. The first; you and your love could return to your home across the sea, and live all your lives in contentment. But, if you take this choice, another price is paid. The world of men, friends and king, will fail. Your father, soldiers, Elessar, from the greatest to the smallest; they would remain in their endless graves."
Elanor shut her eyes, a tear spilling down her cheek. "And the other?" she asked, dreading what she would hear.
"You could go back. Back to the time ere this war was started, ere ever we grew angered with the ways of men. Those you love would live out their lives the way it was meant to be, and fate could be set right. Yet the price you would pay would be love. You would live out all the days of your lives without the companionship of the other; he would never come to love you, and he will not remember any of the time you have had together. That is your choice. You must decide between them; life with love but death for others you have loved, or life without your love. You must decide ere the dawn, or your choice will be lost."
Elanor remained kneeling on the cold floor. How could she choose between such fates? Love would be nothing if she lived with the knowledge that a realm had failed by her hand, and life would be nothing without her love. She curled herself into a tiny ball and rocked, her mind broken and her heart destroyed.
For the first time since the days of Luthien Tinuviel, and for the last time hence, the stone heart of Namo, Lord of the Dead, was moved. He had not beheld such agony from any, only the fair elven maiden, who forsook her immortality for the love of a mortal man. But there was nothing he could do. The actions of the lord of the dead were governed by a power greater than his own, against which he was nothing.
"My child," he said, so softly. "You have `til the dawn."
Elanor stilled her weeping and took a shuddering breath. As she calmed herself, she realized that her choice was clear. There was only one path in her heart, and it was laid before her. It would be painful beyond reckoning, but she would outlast it. She must.
"My Lord," Elanor said, looking to the single window above the mighty throne at the graying sky. "I have made my choice."
* * *
Elanor groaned as she sank into a huge armchair. She was alone in her room, for once. She looked sadly about the cozy chamber, her sight blurred with tears she would not allow to fall. Sighing, she touched her lips lightly, remembering. Suddenly, her door burst open, revealing a furious Primrose pointing accusatorily at Pippin-lad, trying and failing to look innocent.
"He stole my doll!" the young hobbit cried. "The one papa gave me, Kali! He knows she's my favorite!"
"Did no such thing," Pippin replied, looking around shiftily. "I think I saw Merry holding her."
Elanor laughed quietly, and drew both the children into an embrace. "What was that for?" Primrose asked quizzically.
"Just wanted you to know how grateful I am that life's the way it is. Now, Pippin, you know better, where'd you hide the doll?" she asked, pushing them out the door and down the hall, her voice fading away as she pattered along the comfortable smial.
Faramir and Elanor did not remain close after the camaraderie of their childhoods, which shocked many. He remained the Took, and master of Tuckburough for all his days, married Elanor's sister, Goldilocks, a responsible hobbit, and raised a great warren of children, all of whom were remarkably adventurous, which pained him greatly for a time. He passed into the realm beyond the stars in the summer of his one hundred and first year.
Elanor lived out her life in quiet prosperity, settling for the most part into a comfortable life of stability. She found a husband, Fastred of Greenholm, whom she grew to love very much, and had several children by him, once they removed to the Tower Hills, a gift from King Elessar to all the hobbits of the Shire. Strangely enough, the names she chose for them had not been heard by any in the Shire; Éowyn, Gwynna, Taron, and Anna. In the last winter of her life some seventy years later, she was heard to murmur softly, "I've waited a long time, love," and slipped finally into the boundless depth of eternal slumber.